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Blog of Sarah McIntyre, children's book writer & illustrator
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1. dr pepper

Today I went to the art supply shop (Atlantis, off Brick Lane) and bought some new pencils.

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2. people making fab stuff

My friend Laurence wanted some company doing his homework today and I amused myself having a little chat with him about copyright. ...Actually, his © is completely valid! He doesn't have to register copyright anywhere to make the picture completely his. When he draws a picture, he immediately has the copyright. (Whether he can defend it, is another thing.) We got the leafy layout idea and adapted his poster from the cover of Gary Northfield's comic book, Gary's Garden.

One of the most exciting things about my job is seeing people who've been inspired by my books, using them as a jumping-off point to creating their own pieces of artwork, costumes and stories. Look, it's a Sea Monkey jumper! And the chap who's wearing it also named Oliver! Big thanks to his aunt, who designed and knitted it and sent the photo to my co-author Philip Reeve and me!

Check out this Oliver and the Seawigs bedroom wall mural, tweeted by @Brazgosuperstar. Pretty amazing!

Hurrah! A Lego Rambling Isle, wearing a Seawig, tweeted by Andy Lacey.

When the Children's Book Club met up at Booka Bookshop in Shropshire, they made their own Seawigs! (If you'd like a Seawig template, you can download one here off my website.)

And one more, a photo of a very realistic-looking Seawig, tweeted by Gareth P Jones.

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3. undecided voter

I'm really struggling with this election, I still have no idea how I'm going to vote. A lot of my friends in the book industry have said they're planning to vote Green, even though they know the Green Party probably won't get more than a few token seats. But I saw this on the Green Party policy website last night and it made me very concerned:

A copyright of only 14 years? Do they mean 14 years? Or lifetime plus 14 years (which would make more sense to me)? Are they talking about copyright itself or licensing the copyright? Copyright law is very complicated. Here's how I understand the basics: I have copyright over something I make, and I almost never sell that. But I do license the rights to people to use specific elements of my work for a certain amount of time, in certain territories. As copyright holder, I can agree with the client in the contract if my name needs to go on the work, and if the client can alter it at all. And when that time expires, the rights revert to me and I can earn more money licensing them again.

Most writers I know who live on their work are able to do so because they've slowly built up a collection of work that continues to earn money, and that build-up takes longer than 14 years. I'm kind of counting on this, because I don't think I can work with this much energy as I get older. I still plan to work in old age, but I hope I earn a little bit from my past work to accommodate the fact that I'll be slowing down. One of the reasons I've been highlighting #PicturesMeanBusiness is that I don't like an easy-going approach to crediting illustrators (or more often forgetting to credit us) that cuts us out of the business equation. We simply want to work, push ourselves to do good work that will entertain and inspire people, get paid for our work, and live off our earnings. If no one wants to read my books or buy my artwork, I need to look for another paying job.

If you go to the Green policy page and read more, it seems that copyright and patents are lumped together in the same category. But I'm not so sure that a copyright on a book or painting is the same as a drug company having control of a medicine patent. An individual struggling to make a living is not the same as a large drugs company, these are probably separate issues. And I don't know anything about drug patents, so I'm not going to talk about that here.

I think the Greens generally like the idea of sharing, which sounds very grass-roots and friendly. But I suspect it's the larger companies who would benefit from this. A company such as Disney would have the financial means of pouncing and developing as soon as copyright expired. Viviane Schwarz pointed out on Twitter that it would also give the world a vast sea of copy-right free art - in effect, our art would become clip art - and clients would be tempted to use that instead of paying us to make new art.

The general sense I'm getting from replies from the Green Party is that the Green Party doesn't want us to be able to make money in a commercial sense, they would prefer that we are funded more equally by the council. My problems with this would be:

1) It sounds to me like we would have to shift the time we now spend trying to win readers to trying to woo arts council people and write endless pseudo-English grant proposals. I trust the decisions of readers, about what they want to spend money on and read, more than I trust a small handful of people in an arts council office deciding for everyone what should be produced.

2) This would appeal to people who haven't been able to make a living at the arts, but one of the reasons for this could be that they either don't spend enough time working on it, or aren't particularly good at it. I hate to think of the taxpayer funding a lot of not-particularly-good art, when we can't even maintain libraries.

3) This is a two-part scheme: we'd lose copyright, but then get other funding. I can imagine us losing copyright but then the government saying, 'Oops, sorry, we don't have enough money to do this', and then we wouldn't be able to claw back the copyright we'd lost.

A major flaw in the current system of publishing is that it discourages single people and poor people from being able to do this for a living, because it takes so long to start earning decent money at it. (See the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.) But I'm not sure a blanket funding scheme of communal art would be the answer to this. The disadvantaged people would still have a hard time getting together the time and training to write the best grant proposals and there would still be a network of privilege. (And writing grant proposals DOES take a great deal of training. You have to speak a special language of grant proposals; you don't get money by just having a solid good idea.)

Even the Green people seem to be saying, 'Don't worry, we're not going to get in anyway, just vote for us and we can work things out'. The points aren't in their manifesto, they are posted as policy aims. But why post aims that haven't been worked out to some extent? Isn't that the point of doing research, that we look at the arguments of all the parties, work out who has the best arguments, and vote accordingly?

I work in a studio full of artists and some artists show up every day, work very hard and are professional, and others show up very occasionally and clog up the sinks. I don't want my hard-earned tax money going to fund sink-cloggers.

I'm all for protecting the planet, but I want it to be done by people who have thought things through; this policy smacks of whimsy, and I don't want a government run that way. And I still have no idea how to vote.

Since I'm really not an expert on copyright law, I would be very interested in hearing what the Society of Authors have to say on this Green policy statement. (I'm a member, and they're @Soc_of_Authors on Twitter.) If you think you might vote Green, it would be worth pushing them to clarify the issue. One place you can discuss it is on their Green Party Policy Discussion Facebook page. You need to join, and then you can take part in the discussion.

Now, I need to step away from this and go do some work; these books won't illustrate themselves.

PS Ah, news just in from the Society of Authors (read it on their website here):

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4. lismore castle: stepping into a storybook

I've read stories about princesses who have rooms in 'the highest room in the tallest tower' of a castle, but I never thought I'd actually get to live that story for a weekend!

When former Irish Children's Laureate Niamh Sharkey got in touch to see if I wanted to be part of a new festival at Lismore Castle called Towers and Tales, of course I said yes. And I brought along my trusty Jampire (knitted by Ann Lam). I'd been asked to do some picture book events for Jampires and There's a Shark in the Bath (but sadly, I seem to have lost my inflatable shark). Here's a drawing inspired by one of the Van Dyke paintings on the wall in the dining room:

It was better even than staying in a castle; we got to stay there with the family who own it, and they were so kind and gracious and provided HEAPS of food! Here's my writer friend Philip Ardagh, tucking in. (We did a lot of tucking in.)

And I wore a lot of hats. But not one with Philip Ardagh on it, unlike Lady Betty Compton, who couldn't resist:

(Ha ha, here are the two paintings the drawings are based on.)

And here I am in the entrance hall with lovely writer-illustrator Chris Riddell, when we first arrived, both of us looking slightly overawed and massively excited.

But I really ought to go back and start chronologically. What's it like, going to visit a big fancy castle? Well, here's Ardagh with his leprechauns, about to board the flight at Gatwick Airport.

And Riddell, who really does draw all the time.

Look, he drew me!

I sketched him, but I was slightly intimidated. Both of us had met book deadlines the night before we left - I finished Pugs of the Frozen North and he finished the third Goth Girl book - and we were both a bit shattered and had packed in a big rush.

Chris let me borrow his super-duper brush pen and I liked how the lines came out on this drawing a bit better. (Note: must order myself a Japanese Kurtake Million Years brush pen.) It's nicer than my Pentel brush pen and I can get more control with it.

After a driver brought us from Cork Airport to the castle, one of the first people we met was William Burlington, who owns the castle with his wife, Laura. He was so kind and down-to-earth and made us feel utterly welcome and at ease.

He and Laura are really into art (that's how they met) and have added some beautiful pieces to the family collection and set up a gallery in the castle and another in the town. But William's also a photographer and I found his website here, with some beautiful portraits. Here's a lovely picture he took of painter Sir Terry Frost (who, coincidentally, had a solo show in 2001 at the gallery that I used to run with friends).

I couldn't believe it when the footman helped me haul my suitcase up the stairs to the bedroom where I would be staying. Here's Jampire sitting on our bed, looking a little bit amazed.

And looking out the bedroom window:

We regrouped for drinks in a beautiful sitting room. Here's Philip, looking rather magnificent.

And Chris on a very flumpy sofa:

Somehow Chris managed to draw a picture of us while he was talking, which is something I find very difficult. I either make a bad drawing or I have the most spaced-out conversation, but he manages to be articulate AND draw, which is quite a skill.

We were given lovely customised festival welcome packs. Check out my hand-drawn shark!

Here's writer Archie Kimpton holding up Jumble Cat from his book with illustrator Kate Hindley.

I share an agent with Kate and absolutely ADORE her work, so I shall have to look out for these two books:

Then we had Afternoon Tea, looked a bit around the gardens, and pottered down the road as a group to see an art exhibition at St Carthage Hall, which is part of the Lismore Castle Arts project. Then it was time to get dressed for dinner. (Actually, William and Laura were so easygoing that I don't think we really had to worry about what we wore, but as you know, I like a good frock.) Here I am at my dressing table, feeling like I'm on the set of Gosford Park.

Such a fabulous dinner! That's Laura, standing on the right, and the butler, Denis, standing next to her. I'd heard about the super-efficiency of Denis, but I sat next to William on the second night's dinner and he said he'd been working for the family for over 30 years. And I got a sense of just HOW quick-on-the-mark he is when I was being filmed on the second day and said I needed to go get my ukulele. And seconds later, Dennis suddenly appeared with another ukulele from a cupboard, in case I wanted to use that one. I was massively impressed.

Here's William's sister, their actor friend Dominic West and Elaina Ryan from Children's Books Ireland.

Then lots of people chilled out on the flumpy sofa. Here's Brown Bag animation director Norton Virgien, Elaina, writer Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Niamh Sharkey, and Niamh's husband.

I finally couldn't keep my eyes open any longer, and also, I had ambitions of trying out the huge bathtub in my room. But I ended up going to sleep quite late because there was so much to look at, even in my room, including a bunch of old copies of Vogue:

Funnily enough, there was even a long 1935 feature article about Bryn Mawr College, where I'd gone to university, and the article was hilariously anti-feminist. There were loads of funny bits but here's one:

I was talking later to Laura, and she said that they'd found the magazines after the room had been derelict for awhile and was being rennovated. They've been bought by Adele Astaire, the sister of Fred Astaire. And she said that when Fred and Adele had started out, she'd looked even more promising as an actor and dancer than he had. So I did a bit of research on Adele before falling asleep and found this video, with the Lismore Castle link. How cool that we'd been reading the same magazines!

The next morning was FESTIVAL DAY. And the sun shone brightly on the castle's towers!

I reached out the bedroom window to take these photos.

Fortunately we didn't have too early of a start - the festival didn't start until 11am and my first event wasn't until noon - very civilised! I'd seen a small staircase next to my room and heard from secretary Ed Lamba that the Gruffalo had been doing a photo shoot earlier on the roof. So I made a little foray up it, to see if it was the roof staircase. It wound up a very long way.

First I came out on a high platform where I met a friendly plasterer named Pat, who was fixing the crenelations by replastering them and drilling metal strengthening rods through them. He took me up a level higher to the very tip of the tallest tower. WHOA!

Then there was a great comedy moment when I had to go back down the ladder through the little trap door but I went down and my skirts and petticoats didn't, with a great FWOOMP, and billowed out around the top of the stair hole. So Pat fought back laughter as I had to go around tucking all the bits of my skirt back down the hole, so I could at last descend and go to breakfast.

Once again, it felt like something out of Gosford Park or Rebecca. I remember this one scene in Rebecca where the second Mrs de Winter has a huge breakfast buffet to choose from but only takes a boiled egg (or was it a little bit of fish?) and worries about all the food going to waste. Philip and I did our bit and I don't think anything will have gone to waste.

It was fun to see the castle courtyard gearing up for the festival, with lots of people in costumes.

I got to draw some characters on the library bus:

I did a big of song warmup (Photo borrowed from CBI on Twitter):

And then it was time for SHARKS! I read There's a Shark in the Bath to the big assembled crowd of kids and parents at the Heritage Centre and we sang the Shark song. (It was a bit tricky, not having my stage show buddy Philip Reeve there to lead the kids in the song motions and do all the Papa Shark voices, like we did at Mountains to Sea festival, but we did all right.)

Then I led them in making paper sharks! I usually just have the kids draw sharks, but wonderful organiser Maura O'Keeffe provided quality paper and craft supplies, so we were able to make them look extra special. I loved how they all had such different personalities!

Then the Heritage Centre coordinator hung the sharks out front on the railings, which hopefully did not intimidate any passersby TOO much. (Photo borrowed from the Lismore Heritage Centre Facebook page.)

I came back to the castle for a quick costume change, and William's brother-in-law decided he'd play the Queen of Hearts, so I helped him out with a hair pom-pom and lipstick.

His real name's Nicky but he made me guess his name, so I called him Colin all weekend.

And I got to sit in for a story about a dragon from Dominic.

I didn't manage to get a photo of writer Darren Shan, but I said a quick hello to writer Shane Hegarty between events:

And writer Sarah Webb, who'd organised Mountains to Sea festival in Dun Laoghaire. (You can see my blog post from that here.)

My next event was a Jampires Hat-making tea party. (http://www.jampires.com">Jampires</a> is the book I created with David O'Connell and featured creatures who suck the jam out of doughnuts.) I'd never actually done this event before, but Maura said she could supply all the materials, so I decided to try it.

The hardest thing was drilling holes in the paper plates and getting everything to stick on; the Pritt sticks and glue weren't so helpful but we made good use of the elastic, staplers and pipe cleaners to anchor everything.

The hats came out very nicely! I loved the netting, it made everything bigger and frothier.

And the pom-poms were good fun.

We even had a couple adults making hats, such as this one:

And here are some of the finished hats!

Then I had a big tired flop in this beautiful room (I could live happily in this room), and Mike Skinner from The Streets came and filmed me for a documentary video about the festival.

Then another lovely Afternoon Tea with the festival volunteers, and pre-dinner drinks:

William gave great kudos to Maura O'Keeffe (pictured here) for all her excellent planning work.

After dinner, I took photos of Niamh and her daughter, who was proudly wearing the hat she'd made at our workshop. (Yay!) The whole festival idea came about from a conversation one evening in this room, when William, Laura, Niamh and John Huddy from the Illustration Cupboard were having dinner. Lismore had hosted lots of arts events, but no children's book events, and this was a first.

I desperately wanted to stay awake so I wouldn't miss anything, but by 1am, my eyes just wouldn't stay open, I was babbling like an idiot and I had to go to bed. So I was quite envious of Philip, who managed to stay up with the gang until 5am! Many fine drinks and tower-climbing shenanigans. But we had an early flight back to London and Philip didn't look quite so hot when he came down to breakfast at 6am. It was hard to leave. I wrote a message in the guest book:

Chris made a drawing:

Jampire flat-out refused to go.

When I finally got him out of bed, he took long, weepy looks out the window at the sun rising over the Blackwater River. I knew how he felt, this was a storybook I didn't want to close. There were so many things I'd missed and still wanted to do: explore the gardens more, catch a glimpse of the kitchen, take a walk in the woods and see all the follies, see the castle art gallery. But I felt tremendously lucky to have been able to do and see as much as I had.

Jampire was not so mature and the only way I could convince him to come out of the room was to leave a copy of Jampires, so at least some of his friends could stay.

But then he threw a final tantrum on the lawn and could not be consoled.

Thanks so much, William, Laura, Maura, Niamh, John, Denis, Ed, and all the staff and volunteers who made this festival happen. You were amazing!

PS It's not inexpensive, but if you have a party of 16 people or more and want to hire Lismore Castle and its 21 bedrooms, you can find details on its website. And if you want to see an earlier blog post I did about visiting Chatsworth (where William's parents live), you can visit it here.

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5. mystery drink taste test challenge

One of my favourite things about reading a book is getting to go on adventure to somewhere new and exciting. And sometimes I don't like the book and it turns out to be a bad adventure, but sometimes it's BRILLIANT, which makes it all worthwhile. But it's fun to have other kinds of adventures, particularly when I'm working flat-out (finishing Pugs of the Frozen North right now). My lovely studio mate Elissa Elwick sometimes pops down to the shops and asks if I want anything, and we got into the habit of her buying a 'Mystery Drink', something she was pretty sure I'd never tried before. So we've embarked on the Mystery Drink taste adventure tour (also known as 'McIntyre drinks it so you don't have to'.)

First up: sugar cane drink. Sweet, a bit bland. Moving on. Rating on a scale of 1-10: 3

Two more cold teas with writing on them that looks Chinese. Also drinkable, but it gets more exciting. Rating: 5

Oo, now what is THIS? I bought it from the drinks cabinet in a Chinese shop on Deptford High Street, but the small-print English reads 'Deluxe Grass Jelly Dessert'. It turned out to have bits of black jelly in it, a rather nice sweet-ish drink and CHICKPEAS, which is a surprising addition to any drink or a dessert.
Rating: 5

This weekend, Stuart got into the swing of things and helped me taste-test another 'Grass Jelly Drink'.

Hmm, no chickpeas. Stuart said 'It tastes like flat Coca-cola with bits in it'. He didn't mind it, but said he wouldn't buy it himself. I rather liked it, the taste was gentle and nice and the jelly bits made it like something you'd get at a children's party, but more grownup-tasting. Rating: 6

If you buy this one, I'd recommend pouring/chunking it out into a glass or bowl, as all the chunky bits sunk to the bottom and were hard to suck out of the can. (And no, it doesn't taste like Branston Pickle, even if it looks like that.)

I went out to the high street to forage the next Mystery Drink: 'Wuhe Flavour Milk Tea'. I wondered (on Twitter) what sort of flavour 'Wuhe' is, and Alan Wyle advised me that it's a actually a place in Taiwan. So I read up on it:

The famous tea in Wuhe is 'Honey Black Tea', it doesn't mean that you add honey into the black tea. The tea leave is bitten by a tiny 'tea leave hopper', the saliva of the hopper interact with the juice of the leave, cause a scent of honey flavor, hense its name.

And you know what, it's VERY NICE! Well done, little leaf hopper. A lovely subtle sweet flavour and a nice, cold, full-bodied drink. Love this one. I think when you drink it, you're supposed to say 'WU-HEY!'. Rating: 8

Now apparently 'Mauby' is a Thing, but I wouldn't have known this unless I'd tried it and then followed the #mauby hash tag on Twitter. Right at the start, the taste was okay, but a split second later, the most horrible bitter aftertaste hit me and bizarrely, the only way to kill the taste was to keep drinking. But it was a very unpleasant experience. Rating: 2

Here's someone else's experience of Mauby:

Last up: Irish Moss (with oats). I think this was the strangest one. I thought the 'moss' would be something like the seaweed that's in McDonald's milkshakes, where it's just part of the consistency but you can't actually taste it. It would be a nice drink - sort of a thick, cold chai latte - except it has overtones of, well... dirt. You know that slightly unpleasant smell that hits you when you walk into a garden centre? Well, this is like drinking that smell. I don't get it.

But I made myself drink the whole can, just to see if the taste would improve. It didn't, but about fifteen minutes later, suddenly I felt VERY FULL. THEN I got it. This drink fills you up.

And then John Allison tweeted a video at me that he's seen on The Real McCoy on BBC2, and apparently Irish Moss helps with other things, too. ...Eek! Rating: 3 (but 8 for interest factor).

So thank you for coming on the Mystery Drink taste testing adventure with me. If you come across an unknown drink and want to share your taste test experience, tweet photos of it with the #MysteryDrink hash tag and let us know what you think. Or make a mini comic about it!

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6. tea cup lady

Sketchbook experiment: drawing two pictures on top of each other and filling in the gaps

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7. happy birthday, felt mistress!

I'm terrible about remembering birthdays and almost never get around to making cards, but here's a rare one for the legend that is Felt Mistress, aka Louise Evans:

I'm constantly inspired by the work that she and her husband, Jonathan Edwards/Jontofski, get up to in North Wales. She sews amazing creatures, he does incredible watercolour paintings, and a lot of their work is collaborative (he draws the monsters, she sews them, etc). It's wonderful to see how patient they are with each other, and interested in each other's work. Do go check out what they're doing, it's the best thing on the Internet right now. And if you don't have a copy of their book Creature Couture, pick one up right away.

Felt Mistress: website, Twitter: @FeltMistress, Instagram: feltmistress

Jontofski: website blog, Twitter: @Jontofski, Instagram: @jontofski

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8. bunny

Happy Easter, everyone! (Bunny is drawn on the back of one of the envelopes I need to be clearing off the table so we can have a proper Easter lunch.)

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9. ardagh & elwick: the secret is out!!!

So FINALLY we're allowed to share the exciting news!!! Guess which amazing duo are combining forces and BURSTING into children's book publishing as a duo!!?!!

You may have spotted photos from our studio and guessed already that SOMETHING IS UP...

Yes, PHILIP ARDAGH and ELISSA ELWICK have a four-book picture book deal with Walker Books! They'll be called 'Little Adventurers' and they're already working on the first one, due to come out in June 2016.

Here's what Philip says about working together:

I'm really enjoying working with Elissa on Little Adventurers because it's such a collaborative process. Being a children's book author can be a lonely business. I began my professional writing career in an advertising agency, partnered with an art director. When I write for radio I work with producer, engineer and actors. The same for TV. You're one of a team. With my previous books, I've enjoyed working with my illustrators but they've joined the process late in the day. The words have been written, the story complete. With Little Adventurers - the basic premise of which was Elissa's in the first place - we're forever exploring ideas, reshaping, and playing around with text and pictures.

The line between writer and illustrater is blurred. We're both interested in pictures and words. And - with additional input from Deirdre and Maria in editorial and Jack in design at Walker Books - we're coming up with something none of us could have created on our own. And, on days I'm working in the Fleece Station, Elissa makes us nice lunches. What's NOT to love about our Little Adventurers collaboration?

Edit: Look! Just tweeted in from the Bologna Book Fair by lovely writer Lucy Coats! By Charlotte Eyre in the Bologna daily version of The Bookseller (with a mention of the then-secretly-titled RAILHEAD by Reeve). Oh, and here's a link to the Book Trade announcement!

I'm proud to say that I was there at Elissa and Philip's very first meeting, at the Discover Story Centre in Stratford, east London. Philip was in his usual fine form, photo-bombing his heart out. And yup, there's Elissa!

I asked Elissa how they kept in touch, and decided that working with this VERY SILLY MAN might be a good idea:

BECAUSE HE WAS SO ODD! His imagination comes spilling out! We kept in touch over Twitter and he'd occasionally throw out ideas for existing characters I had and our working collaboration kind of stemmed from there.

So what's your background, Elissa? I heard you were once a champion skateboarder!

ALL LIES! It wasn't very long, I managed to blag myself some sponsorship for a little while when I lived in Northampton. But when I went to uni, I got way more into drawing and now my skateboard collects dust. I studied BA Illustration at Bournemouth and my first picture book deal was with Macmillan, The Princess and the Sleep Stealer. I also worked as Resident Storyteller and bookseller at an indie bookshop in Clapham called Under the Greenwood Tree. That was a great experience because I got to learn about the children's book industry from the other side of the counter.

What medium you use to make your pictures?

I use a mixture of pencil, watercolours and my computer. It's been so much fun bringing the Little Adventurers to life. Here are some early sketches.

Ardagh & Elwick will be working with editor Maria Tunney and designer Jack Noel. In the run up to Bologna Children's Book Fair, she was on the phone with Jack, and I managed to get a few words with him, to ask what they liked so much about Elissa's work:

I love Elissa's work because she makes everything look adorable; she creates her own sweet world. She's created these four characters and it's really nice, the relationships between them.

Gary Northfield and I love having Elissa in the studio, she's always up for a laugh and a cup of tea (and doesn't get upset when I accidentally eat all her biscuits). Here we are at the launch of Gary's Garden, both wearing themed Chompy-the-caterpillar clothes:

Philip's already quite active with our studio: I worked together with him on the Discover Storycloud project and he wrote a nice quote for the front of Gary's new book, Julius Zebra (also with Walker Books).

Here's Elissa at her desk in the studio. When she's done a good run of work, she rewards herself by watching a short animation. (And here, with homemade pot noodles.)

It won't be so much of a secret, they've already been seen about town together and posting photos of themselves with SLEBS:

So Elissa, this seems like an amazing prospect! But what will be one of your greatest challenges, working together?


You can follow Elissa on Instagram at @elissaelwick on Twitter, also as @ElissaElwick, and check out her website, elissaelwick.co.uk.

And Philip on Instagram - @philipardagh - and Twitter - @PhilipArdagh.
So keep an eye out, this team is set to pull off some pretty amazing stuff...

Be sure to check out their new joint blog!

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10. bologna book fair excitement!

Right now in children's book world, it's all happening in Bologna! Publishers and rights teams from all around the world have gathered in the vast Italian conference centre/warehouse for the Bologna Children's Book Fair to buy and sell the rights to publish each other's books in different languages. Britain is quite a small country, so if British writers and illustrators can have their work sold abroad, it's much easier to earn a living at their jobs.

So everyone who makes books is wondering... what will happen?? How are our books doing? Will the rights people talk up our books as extra-special, and will potential publishers notice our books when they walk past our publisher's stall? So nerve-wracking for everyone, but exciting, too!

So I was thrilled to see this banner in the OUP Children's stall, tweeted by our publisher, Liz Cross. Yay, PUGS!

And rights agent Karoline Bakken sent me a peek of the catalogue that visiting publishers will be looking at. Here's the Pugs page:

24 languages... that is AMAZING. Sometimes in the past, my books have sold in three or four languages, but this is incredible. Working with Philip Reeve and the OUP team was definitely a good idea. Liz just tweeted a picture of the rights team, here they are! A huge part of the success is down to their enthusiasm, and these people have done a great job so far. And huge thanks to our translators! A Belgian friend was recently reading the French edition of Oliver et les Isles Vagabondes, and she said that translator Raphaële Eschenbrenner's text was pure magic.

I actually have TWO books at Bologna this year! I'm still working like mad on Pugs of the Frozen North, but I've seen printed copies of Dinosaur Police, which comes out with Scholastic UK in May. That baby is ready to walk! Big thanks to my Scholastic editor Pauliina Malinen and designer Rebecca Essilifie.

I hope Dinosaur Police sells lots of foreign editions, too, fingers crossed. I mostly just make picture that please me, but there are a few things I did to make it so foreign publishers wouldn't be put off. Take this spread, for example:

If we zoom in on the police car, you'll notice it's not absolutely clear who is driving. Now, it shouldn't really matter, since this is Dinoville, not Hong Kong or Norway or Egypt, but if publishers in a certain country are fussy about kids learning the 'correct' side a driver should sit on, this won't actually be incorrect. (I actually find that rather amusing, this slightly mysterious car.)

Check out the writing on this cinema poster. If I'd made the writing all black, it could have been lifted and replaced with another language. (It's too expensive for foreign publishers to change all the colour layers, so the black text is on a separate layer they can lift off in one swoop.) But I didn't want the writing to be all black, and it's so tiny that I didn't think people could read it anyway, so I was able to make it red, and make it non-English. (Who says dinosaurs write in English, anyway?)

Now, you might say, 'Hey, the lettering of that PIZZA sign on the left is in white, not black. But ah ha, there is a tricky way around this! Notice how it's all surrounded by black. That whole black bit can come off, leaving a blank space for the foreign publisher to fill in different lettering. And the pizza poster on the right is obviously in dino-language; publishers can leave it as it is.

I'm not going to Bologna this year - I'm too busy finishing Pugs of the Frozen North! - but OUP did bring Philip and me out two years ago, to promote Oliver and the Seawigs. You can read all about that trip and find out more about the Bologna Book Fair in this earlier blog post. Bologna is notorious for not having a unified Twitter hash tag, but you can spot English-language news on #BolognaBookFair and #bcbf15.

And Philip has an exciting new book going there, too! I've actually read it - or even better, had it read to me, when I had a bad case of the 'flu for two weeks! Philip gave me daily installments over Skype, editing his text as we went. And this story is AMAZING. Here's the new cover, designed by Holly Fulbrook, Jo Cameron and the OUP design team!

Find out a bit more about the book here on Philip's blog. Today you can take part in the Railhead Twitter promo:

Ha ha, here's my 'RAILHEAD Ambassador Hat', some assembly required.

Of course, a big shout-out to our fab agents. Jodie Hodges reps me at United Agents, and Jane Willis is covering for her while she's on maternity leave; Philippa Milnes-Smith reps Philip. (Fortunately they're all good friends.)

Check out more at #PicturesMeanBusiness

And Philip's written a very interesting article about judging the YA Book Prize. First prize went to Louise O'Neill with Only Ever Yours, but Philip reviews four of his favourites from the shortlist. Do pop over to his blog, it makes for a good read.

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11. at home with stuart

I love it when Stuart irons his work shirts, it makes the flat smell all cosy.

Part of me thought this weekend that I needed to spend every moment working toward my book deadline. But I am turning into a creaky old lady, and I've been overdosing on biscuits in the studio, so exercise is very much in order. Stuart took me on a good hard cycle ride along the Thames and we stopped for coffee at one of our favourite cafes, Teapod. (It's also where my Jampires co-author David O'Connell and I used to meet up, when he lived around the corner.)

We also popped out today for a drink with artists John Aggs and Nana Li. (Look out for John's graphic novel adaptation of Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses.) Star Cat creator James Turner brought along his triplet brothers, ALL IN MATCHING JUMPERS.

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12. durn leggings

Perhaps I'll wake up soon and realise I really didn't just buy three identical pairs of too-small leggings.

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13. pictures mean business: et al and others

Good things are happening, but we still have a ways to go....

Charts in this week's copy of The Bookseller

Click here for earlier #PicturesMeanBusiness articles.

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14. pictures mean business: the cover-o-matic

I made a little comic for #PicturesMeanBusiness. Click here for previous blog posts on the subject, and on the Twitter hash tag #PicturesMeanBusiness, to see what people are saying!

This issue isn't such a big one for me personally, because my publishers are wonderful at supporting me. But I see book covers being revealed all the time on social media with no mention of the artist, or a web link if people want to find out more about them. Why not show off your artist? It makes your announcement all that more interesting and share-worthy. And the best artists will be more likely to want to work with you.

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15. pugs of the frozen north: work in progress

If you wonder why I haven't been blogging much recently, it's because of THIS. Here's a preview sampler of a couple chapters of my upcoming book with Philip Reeve, Pugs of the Frozen North:

The artwork for the whole book is due very soon and I'm working with the energy of a whole pack of 66 pugs on it! It's not easy, drawing 66 pugs. I must be careful with my pug count:

Hee hee, and they are quite noisy, too:

I'm drawing it the same way I did for Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space but with a different colour this time (turquoise). My favourite part of the job is using my dip pen and India ink to draw the ink layer, after I've done the pencil rough drafts:

Here I am at the library, doing some of the digital colouring.

Check out some of the printed pictures in the Pugs sampler! Funnily enough, there aren't any pugs in these chapters, it's all about YETIS. Who make noodles from snow.

Why have a Yeti Noodle Bar in the middle of our book? Well, because I've always wanted to draw a Yeti Noodle Bar, that's why.

But you can't just eat your noodles and run. Oh, no.

Much frozen landscape:

And eccentric characters, including lovely bearded Helga Hammerfest and super chic Mitzi Von Primm.

I've been posting the occasional peek at the artwork on Twitter, so feel free to click over and have a peek here!

From The Bookseller, Fiona Noble's top picks

(Click here for a peek at Dinosaur Police!)

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16. ireland: mountains to sea book festival 2015

I used to think Dun Laoghaire in Ireland was pronounced 'dun leg hair', but in fact, you say it 'dun leery'. And that's where I went this weekend for Mountains to Sea Book Festival, along with a gorgeous gaggle of other writers, illustrators and book people, including this gang here: Oxford Story Museum's Tom Donegan, writer Judi Curtin, fellow space cadet and co-author Philip Reeve and writer Steve Cole:

But I'm so madly busy working on Pugs of the Frozen North right now (my upcoming book with Philip Reeve), that Philip kindly offered to do the blogging for me! So pop over to his blog for ALL OF THE NEWS:

***Keep reading Philip's blog here!***

Huge thanks to organiser and writer Sarah Webb for making everything go so smoothly! Also, big thanks to Oxfordshire Book Awards for making There's a Shark in the Bath your runner-up winner in the Picture Book category. Fab!

One more thing, journalist Fiona Noble in The Bookseller magazine just featured Pugs of the Frozen North as one of her top books to watch out for. Thanks, Fiona!

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17. nom-o-tron, mk II

Look, we have a shiny new Nom-O-Tron to take to Ireland this weekend for our Cakes in Space event! My co-author Philip Reeve built it, using the blindingly amazing power of SCIENCE.

See you soon, Mountains to Sea festival! Here's the previous Nom-O-Tron, which was state-of-the-art when it came out. But it had synthesised so much space food that it was falling into disrepair and its software needed upgrading. (These scientific machines go obsolete so quickly! The bane of our existence.)

Photo by Steve Babb at the Manx Lit Fest

And I've been busy packing. It always takes me ages, I don't know why.

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18. cuckoo song


And the book that has been making me SO RESENTFUL at the rest of the world this week has been Frances Hardinge's Cuckoo Song. I've been working like the clappers on Pugs of the Frozen North and haven't had anytime to do anything practical, much less read or watch telly. But I stole very late hours of the night to read Cuckoo Song and was completely hooked.

The story's very dark; at the beginning the young narrator is trying to convince her family and the sister who hates her that she's perfectly sane, while she can see herself falling apart. What looks like a descent into hysteria comes with an intriguing twist to the tale, that turns it from an Edwardian story about a fragile girl into something much wilder and folkloric.

One of the things that struck me about Cuckoo Song was that it's a perfect gift for inspiring art student drawings. A girl with cobwebs leaking from her eyes, whose hair keeps turning into leaves, and who has bits of ribbon and Edwardian keepsakes peeking out of her unraveling seams. A tough but glamourous fast-living jazz woman named Violet with a hard bobbed haircut and a motorcycle, who's chased by frost and snow; wild tram rides over rooftops... it all begs to be drawn. I hope someone animates the book, it'd make a cracking good film. So A+ to Frances for conjuring up all these amazing images in words. She's a wonderful wordsmith. And I'm sure everyone at some point can relate to what the younger sister says, when she accuses her big sister: 'You're getting everything just a bit wrong. Everything. All the time. And sooner or later they'll notice.' Or with Violet, who just keeps moving, to avoid disaster.

Also, congrats to Frances for Cuckoo Song for being shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal yesterday. Yay! You can read a short Telegraph review or a longer Guardian review, but the longer one does slightly come with spoilers.

I partly wanted to read this book because I keep hearing amazing things about Frances's writing, but also because I keep running into her at book festivals and saying, 'I really must read your book'. And it was just getting silly, because I hadn't, but I'm so glad I DID! Now I must go and read all her other books. Oh, and also because she wears very fine hats, and I like a good hat.

Speaking of hats, I got this tweet from Shea Wong with a photo of a lovely thing her 4-year-old son had made. They'd used my guide for turning a pound-shop felt Easter bucket into a pillbox hat, and it looks ace!

So don't say you can't afford a good Easter hat, if there's a Poundland anywhere near you, heh heh. (I should have added that you can make it stay on if you attach a bit of thin elastic to go around the back of your head.)

And, see you soon, Ireland! I'm off to the Mountains to Sea book festival in Dun Laoghaire tomorrow (just outside Dublin) and I'm doing one Cakes in Space school event, and three public ones, including Cakes in Space with Reeve, a panel discussion on becoming a children's book writer or illustrator, and a family drawing and storytime for There's a Shark in the Bath. You can see all the events listed on my Events Page.

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19. world book day 2015: biggest book show on earth!

Today World Book Day UK hosted my co-author Philip Reeve and me along with a stupendous line-up of book people. Do we look excited?

It's been a ten-city, ten-day tour, and we were the London stop.

I never thought I'd be on stage with the amazing Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, Francesca Simon, Holly Smale and Steven Butler!

The venue was a big surprise. I'd never visited Walthamstow Assembly Hall before, and it felt like the big People's Palaces I'd seen during my student days in Moscow. Heavy, grand, and a bit imposing. But cool!

Check out the words above this doorway: FELLOWSHIP IS LIFE AND THE LACK OF FELLOWSHIP IS DEATH. ...WHOAAAA.

I guess it's the Fellowship of the Rings, check out the ceiling pattern. Here's what the hall looked like before the school coaches rolled in. (That's Reeve ahead, carrying my red Sea Monkey bag and his ukulele.)

And here's our presenter, magnificent ringmaster Steven Butler, who grew out his twirly moustache just for the occasion. You might know him as the guy who writes the Dennis the Menace books. He's been ringmaster for the whole tour, and he's still on his feet. Wow!

Steven memorized 'three unknown facts' about each of the speakers, which was rather impressive. My facts were:
1. When Sarah was born, her parents thought she was a sea monkey.
2. When she escaped from the zoo, they were sure of it.
3. She now draws sea monkeys in an attempt to distance herself from these silly creatures.

Philip's facts:
1. Philip wrote his first book when he was five, and it was called When Spike and Spook went to the Moon.
2. Philip is actually a highly advanced android named Wilf.
3. Philip hates being called Wilf; please never call him that.

Here we are, just before going on stage.

And we did our thing, drawing a Sea Monkey, singing some songs, reading from Oliver and the Seawigs, demonstrating the Power of Science with the Nom-o-Tron from Cakes in Space. (I told the kid that if they wanted to learn how to draw their own Sea Monkey, they could find out on my website.)

I love meeting other authors at festivals and things, but I hardly ever get to sit and watch their talks; I either have to leave or we're on at the same time. So it was great to get the chance to watch Holly Smale, writer of the Geek Girl books, in action!

Holly got almost as much fanfare as Jacqueline Wilson, who entered to screams that rock stars would envy.

Jacqueline's famous not only for her books, but also for the chunky rings she always wears. So Steven decided he had to give her a run for her money on that front. Check out all the BLING!

We got to hear Michael Rosen tell stories:

And Francesca Simon talk about Horrid Henry (and Perfect Peter):

Holly accidentally left her phone on-stage, so Steven took a big selfie.

I thought, with that many other amazing authors present, we'd have a great time but probably not sell a lot of books. But I was WRONG! Oxford University Press brought a big table full of books and sold every single one, and kids were sad not to get even more! The kids were going absolutely mad buying everyone's books and getting them signed, it was awesome. And even kids who didn't get our books brought Holly Smale's World Book Day edition of Geek Girl up for me to sign. So I drew geeky Sea Monkeys, which was fun.

Huge thanks to the colourful Kirsten Grant and her team, who organised the tour, Steve who did our tech, Steven for being a wonderful ringmaster, Newham Bookshop for organising books, our lovely OUP publicists Harriet Bayly & Camille Davis, and the local libraries for the use of the venue. And, of course, to all the schools who came along, and to my fellow authors, who made the day such fun. I'm excited to see which book characters people are going to dress up as on Thursday, World Book Day!

If you dress up as a character in one of my books with Philip or any of the other books, please please send along a photo, I'd love to see! Here are a few ideas from past years, if you're looking for some inspiration:

From There's a Shark in the Bath:

From Oliver and the Seawigs:

From Jampires (you can print a free mask from here!)

Princess Spaghetti from You Can't Eat a Princess! and You Can't Scare a Princess! (tiara-making tips here):

And you can download and print a free GOBLIN mask from Reeve's GOBLINS books!

Reeve and I would love love LOVE to see some Cakes in Space costumes! Astra, Pilbeam the robot, Poglites, killer cakes....DO IT DO IT DO IT!

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20. wee red writer interview

I've done an interview with Edinburgh-based Julie Stirling over on the Wee Red Writer website about my work making books, about the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign, and some tips for budding illustrators. You can read it in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. And get another peek at my Scholastic UK picture book coming out in March, Dinosaur Police.

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21. the kitschies awards and the black tentacle!

Happy World Book Day, everyone! I've already seen one costume tweeted by Rebecca Mascull of her daughter Poppy, dressed up as Oliver from Oliver and the Seawigs. So fab, GO POPPY!

Last night we celebrated 'the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic'. I've blogged in the past about The Kitschies awards, but last week I was surprised to get a special request from organiser Glen Mehn to come to the ceremony to accept their Black Tentacle award. Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman won it last year, so I was more than surprised! Here's Glen presenting, and Anne Perry, who started up The Kitschies with her partner, Jared Shurin, painting names on the tentacle trophies. (She made the trophies but didn't know who was going to win this year so she painted the names on the spot.)

One of the great things about The Kitschies is that they have a special award for book cover artwork, such an important part of making books awesome. The winner of this year's cover award - The Inky Tentacle - was Glenn O’Neill, for Tigerman by Nick Harkaway (who coincidentally won The Red Tentacle back in 2013).

One of the highlights of my evening was meeting these two illustrators, Jim Kay (who won the Greenaway for A Monster Calls and is currently illustrating the new Harry Potter covers), and up-and-coming DAPS; the two of them gave a great presentation and were just so... goshdarn NICE. I hope to see a lot more of these dudes in the future.

I didn't win The Black Tentacle for a book, it's more a judges' discretion general sort of award for 'outstanding contribution to geek culture'. And it gave me a chance to talk about the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign, which I feel really follows the work Malorie Blackman's been doing with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. Getting into the book business can take a long time and it can be extremely difficult to make a living at it. Which can make it very elitist, since people with family money, or who are supported by earning partners have a huge advantage. That's tragic for books, because it means we hear a lot less from single people, and people who can't afford to be fully competitive by illustrating or writing full-time.

There are a lot of reasons for this elitism that need tackled, but the most clear-cut way I've spotted is by calling for illustrators to be recognised for their work. It's something everyone agrees with, in theory, but illustrators still get left out in awards listings, when writers show off their new book covers, in the media. And one of the reasons for this is faulty META DATA, a current buzzword in the business. When publishers submit information about their books that gets used by everyone else, a lot of time the illustrator (and translator) information is missing, or isn't provided in a useful way by the data sources. (For example, on Neilsen BookScan you can search the entire sales figures of a writer but not of an illustrator. So trade media such as The Bookseller magazine don't credit illustrators with having any effect on sales, because they don't have the figures.)

Photo tweeted by @EwaSR

There are many other ways we'll need to encourage diversity, but this particularly battle seems manageable, something we could actually achieve in the next few years if book people get behind it. For #PicturesMeanBusiness, we're challenging

* Data providers to update their software, making sales figures searchable by illustrator (and translator), and not hiding them in a second optional tier of information.

* Publishers to fill out ALL the data, including illustrator and translator, not just the mandatory field for the writer.

* Writers and Publicists, when announcing your new book cover, let us know who created it! When you tweet images by your illustrator, tag them, and when you use their artwork on your website, be sure people can see who made it.

* Illustrators: get on Twitter! The publishing world loves it, and it's much easier to credit you if you have a profile with your website link in it. You never need tweet, but set up this profile so people can link easily to you. (Everyone else, if illustrators aren't on Twitter, find creative ways still to mention them!)

Big congratulations to the other Kitschies winners! The Invisible Tentacle (for Natively Digital Fiction) went to Kentucky Route Zero, Act III, by Cardboard Computer; The Inky Tentacle (for Cover Art) to Glen O'Neill for Tigerman; The Golden Tentacle (for debut novel) to Hermione Eyre for Viper Wine; The Red Tentacle (for novel) to Andrew Smith for Grasshopper Jungle.

My husband, Stuart, snapped these photos with Hermione Eyre, and Kitschies judge (previous Red Tentacle shortlister and hatted writer of reknown) Frances Hardinge. Listening to Frances describe books was like its own work of art; she speaks like beautiful writing, it's amazing.

Photo tweeted by @natalielaverick

Big thanks and congratulations to all the hardworking Kitschies team, judges, shotlisted creators and winners! You can see more tweets from the ceremony on #TheKitschies hash tag and find out about the shortlisted books on The Kitschies website. Here's a last little peek at The Black Tentacle and Jim Kay with previous Red Tentacle winner Patrick Ness.

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22. world book day 2015 costume round-up!

If you follow this blog, you'll know I love dressing up, and it's SUCH a rush to see other people dressed up as characters in books I've helped create! So here's this year's round-up, and it's SUPER EXCITING. Check out Oliver and Iris from Oliver and the Seawigs:

Poppy, tweeted by @rebeccamascull; mermaid tweeted by @HollySwainUK

And a KILLER CAKE from Cakes in Space! (I was SO hoping Philip Reeve and I would get a character from that one, hooray!)

Tweeted by @RachLilBC

Check out this spooky Jampire!! David O'Connell and I were hugely chuffed to see this!

Tweeted by @nidpor

Claire Freedman and I were thrilled to see some caped heroes from Superkid!

Tweeted by @alexchiorando and @annaborthwick2

Joel, via Facebook

And here were some of my other favourite costumes! Check out Larry Ladybird from the Gary's Garden comics in The Phoenix Comic by Gary Northfield.

Via Caroline Smith on Facebook

Be sure to check out his Gary's Garden book of collected strips; it's ace. And check out the brand-new trailer for Gary's book Julius Zebra!

Last one, Joe Undrill dressed as Fish-Head Steve, by Jamie Smart. Fabulous!

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23. pictures mean business: historic moment!

At last, it's happened! The Bookseller trade magazine, from this week, is listing writers AND illustrators in the sales rankings for illustrated books! Hooray!!! This might look like a small thing, but it's a good start to being taken seriously as professionals who contribute to book sales.

Big thanks to journalist Charlotte Eyre and editor Philip Jones for making this happen. See here, you can spot Tony Ross, Garry Parsons and Axel Scheffler, who wouldn't have been listed as of last week:

If you take a look at their covers, you can immediately see these books aren't just words and paper; so much of what makes them is the illustrations:

Huge thanks to everyone who's been supporting the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign! Even when we've pointed things out, people have been incredibly helpful and made changes; there's no lack of goodwill, it's just sometimes people haven't noticed illustrators being left out. So what's happened so far?

What have we definitely achieved?

1. Carnegie listing: illustrators were included on the Carnegie medal longlist.

Writers were always listed on the Greenaway lists, even though it's an illustration award, and the listings had followed a long-standing format, using incomplete data supplied by Nielsen. (Philip Reeve has always freely credited me as a co-author for Oliver and the Seawigs so our own listing there was obviously incorrect. He's blogged about it here.) The committee still need to consider how illustrations play a part in judging these books, and if they can accept co-authored books in future lists.

2. An online and printed apology from The Bookseller for feature article celebrating writer Michael Rosen as the creator of the We're Going on a Bear Hunt picture book with no mention of illustrator Helen Oxenbury.

This kind of omission has been common in the media generally and hopefully we'll be seeing less of it. But The Bookseller is a trade magazine, and we really need our own book people to be pioneers in this - bloggers, publishers, parents, teachers, people who already love illustrated books.

3. The Book People amended the listings of winners on the website for the Red House Children's Book Awards to include illustrator Oliver Jeffers in the award for The Day the Crayons Quit.

Only writer Drew Daywalt had been credited, although apparently Jeffers was also credited in the printed press release. The website manager still hasn't fixed the listings for the other nominees. The Book People's Twitter spokesperson explained that they gathered their own data, but the website didn't allow enough characters on the line to include two names (so at least one co-author was also left out). The spokesperson said it might take awhile to fix this but they'd get on the case.

4. The Reading Agency amended their Summer Reading Challenge Record Breakers book collections online lists to include illustrators.

They had included some illustrators but not all, and they explained that their data came from the publishers. Kudos to them, they were very quick to fix this, and thanks to writer Caryl Hart for leading the way on this one.

5. The Bookseller magazine has begun listing illustrators in sales charts.

What still needs to happen?

1. The big book databases are still faulty.

These subscription-financed companies are still pumping out book information to many different sources that doesn't include the name of the illustrator (or often the translator). This is partly because their systems are badly in need of upgrading and partly because publishers still aren't filling in all the relevant 'meta data' when they register their books. Here's what's happening so far:

* Journalist at The Bookseller Charlotte Eyre and my agent, Jodie Hodges, are looking into this so they can go right to the companies with well-researched questions. So let them know if you have any good information or insights on the subject. I'm like most illustrators, I know something's wrong but I still don't know exactly what, because I don't have access to any of these subscription-only databases.

* Publishers, we're asking you: please, please be sure to fill in at least the names of your writers, illustrators and translators. And it would be great if you could include illustrator names on the front covers of illustrated books, to make the illustrator name easier to spot.

2. The wider media still needs to realise illustrators have a major role in creating picture books.

I don't want this to become a sort of witch hunt for people who accidentally leave out illustrators, but when, say, The Guardian does a features specifically about picture books, it seems nuts not to include the illustrators. Here's an example from World Book Day. The girl in the picture has made a terrific Superworm costume, based on the book by writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler. The costume is a based on Axel's paintings of Superworm, but the journalist credits the book as 'Superworm by Julia Donaldson'. Even the parent is more clued in, recognising the 'Axel Scheffler style eyes', but Axel's name should really be in the book credits. Let's let children (and their parents) be inspired by illustrators as well as writers.

3. Teachers need reminded of the importance of illustration.

My Superkid co-author, writer Claire Freedman, supportively retweeted my bafflement at this World Book Day classroom poster. I love the enthusiasm of the teacher who made it, but since the whole poster is based on the visuals of Superkid, why has he or she only included Claire's name? (Claire didn't decide how Superkid was going to look.)

Teachers are missing a trick, if they're not teaching their kids that there's more than one role in creating a picture book, and that stories can be told through both writing AND drawing. Some people get into stories through words, some through pictures, and most through a combination of both. And drawing can be a way in to storytelling for many children. People who train teachers, if you could flag this to them, that would be wonderful.

4. ACLS payments.

To be honest, I don't know anything about this yet, but writer-illustrator Debi Gliori has flagged it:
The ALCS site only has categories for author, co-author, contributor etc on its site when one is entering books to be included for future royalty payments. When I coauthored or in other words illustrated a few books, it deemed my contribution to be 0% and credited me accordingly. That needs fixed too.

Does anyone want to get on the case with this one?

Again, thanks for your support, and if you could keep using the #PicturesMeanBusiness hash tag, that would be great! (Click here for past blog articles on the topic.) This affects everyone, not just illustrators. We'll get better illustrated books if people can do it for a living.

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24. mongoose in a space suit

(From Twitter)

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25. cakes in space and jampires hit leicester!

Leicester earthlings got a surprise last week when my co-author Philip Reeve and I teleported in with our Cakes in Space roadshow! We drew a picture of ourselves, in case we couldn't be seen because our costumes were so blindingly shiny:

We were thrilled to take part in Leicester Author Week, and this is the first time there that I've been able to do a double-act presentation. Which was a lot of fun! The Two Steves have been doing this double act thing for years, here we are with them (Steve Skidmore and Steve Barlow) and writer Andy Briggs, who all worked with their own groups of kids on the day. And we got to see a lot of kids! Over the two days, I got to work with over 800 Leicester school children on the city's innovative scheme, Whatever It Takes to get kids reading.

**Philip Reeve has blogged (magnificently) about our Cakes in Space day over on his website**, so pop over there for a read! (You can print out Cakes in Space drawing resources from my website.) I think one of my favourite things about the day was watching all these kids at the end of the session, rushing up to give Philip big hugs. I don't think he got hugged quite so much when he was doing his Mortal Engines talks. :)

So... JAMPIRES DAY! I spent quite awhile talking about my co-author on this picture book, the excellent David O'Connell, and drawing, of course.

A teacher took this photo with the kids from her class, who were very appropriately dressed in jammy red school jumpers.

The team that run Leicester Author Week is what makes it great; they manage to combine a warm, fun atmosphere with total professionalism. The equipment always works, the planning is very straightforward, and every kid gets a book at the end of the day. Big thanks to technician Mark Lambell, multi-lingual storyteller Jyoti Shanghavi and head organiser Kate Drurey (with jam pot).

We started with a big stage event and I read JAMPIRES to the kids and teachers, talked a bit about how I made it, took questions and we sang the Jampires song. Then we all moved over to the workshop tables, and I led them in drawing their own Jampires. (Hey look, there's Philip drawing a Jampire on the following day!)

We talked about how foods can inspire characters, which can, in turn inspire stories. So we all wrote down our favourite foods and came up with a character who's obsessed with that particular food. The kids helped me come up with Peter the Pizzapire. Then they drew their own, and we started creating a world for their character, a place where the story could happen. Check out Icy the Icecreampire....

...and Pommy the Popcornpire! I hope the kids were able to take away their characters and settings and turn them into full stories.

Another fun thing about Leicester Author Week is getting to see lovely colleagues. Here are lovely writers Bali Rai and John Dougherty. (John helped me last year in Leicester to come up with the tune for my There's a Shark in the Bath song, with lyrics by Philip Reeve! It's fun being able to work together.)

I mentioned to the kids that they can knit their own Jampire if they like, and the pattern's available, along with lots of other creative resources, on the fab website David O'Connell designed, jampires.com.

Since every kid gets a book, and there are over 800 kids, that means a LOT of book signing! Luckily I got to sign both sets of books the day before, so I didn't have to rush too much. Here are the boxes of JAMPIRES books that met me when I first got to the hotel. Quite late in the evening, I was joined by John Dougherty, who had only just flown in from the Emirates Lit Fest in Dubai! (I did that last year, going straight from Dubai to Leicester without time to drop off stuff at home. Stuart rescued me by coming with a fresh suitcase of clothes and I had a dramatic and chaotic repacking session in corner of Gatwick Airport. An elderly lady was sitting on a bench nearby, and shaking with laughter as my suitcase kept popping with tentacles, massive petticoats and pirate gear.) Despite his travels, John remembered to bring a full range of pen colours.

Our Leicester hotel was nice and quite quirky. Check out the unexplained portraits of 'Wills' in the restaurant. And the stairway that led to nowhere except a big porcelain dog, marked 'The Kennel'.

I don't usually get any time to explore Leicester, but this time my hotel was right near leafy New Walk, which gave me a whole different impression of the city.

I even popped quickly into the New Walk Museum, which is well worth visiting if you're in the area: cool Victorian paintings, dinosaur skeletons, mummies, and a collection of German Expressionist paintings and illustrations, among other things.

And we even got to join our Leicester friends Selina Lock and Jay Eales and Steve's wife Ali for a curry, hurrah! Huge thanks to the Leicester team, including Juliet Martin, Dan Routledge, Sandy Gibbons, Nicole Dishington (here with Andy Briggs) and everyone who made it happen! You can follow Whatever It Takes on Twitter as @LeicesterWiT.

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